Earthlink, do you read me?

Welcome to the 10th circle of hell: ISP tech support.


Peter Y. Sussman
September 4, 2001 11:31PM (UTC)

What follows is an actual exchange of e-mail between me, a real person, and various people and/or machines at Internet service provider Earthlink, whose corporate family includes a number of other e-mail providers that it has gobbled up in recent years. One of the gobbled and only partially digested companies is Mindspring. The companies appear to have separate phone numbers and domain names, but they share some billing functions.

This exchange of messages has been edited only for clarity and privacy. Eliminated, for instance, is some of the e-mail "header" clutter, as well as the previous messages in sequences that, in keeping with e-mail protocol, were strung at the end of each reply. Presumed time zones have been added to some messages that didn't arrive with them.

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The messages started with an e-mail invoice from Earthlink/Mindspring, informing me that my credit card had been charged $4.95 for Web space and $1 for something called "paper invoice." I was inspired to write to the Internet behemoth by the following paragraph on the invoice:

If you think there is an error on your invoice, please write to us via email at invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com or US mail at the address above within 30 days of the invoice date to dispute the erroneous charge.

We'll be happy to clarify your invoice or correct any erroneous charges.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2001 21:28:05 -0700 [PDT]
To: invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com
From: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read"
Cc:

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Why do I keep getting these bills? I have an Earthlink account, too, but this bill is for the Mindspring account (pys@mindspring), which is a remnant of the sale of my old ISP to Earthlink. The Mindspring account is not and has never been a fully operational email address or account, it is only for mail forwarding to my Earthlink account, which is pys1@earthlink.net. The only charge on this account was to be the initial $15 for six months of forwarding. That was charged to me in early May.

Please explain, and please straighten this out. There should be no charges that I know of on my Mindspring account after the initial fee.

Peter Sussman

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Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001 00:53:41 -0400 [EDT]
To: "Peter Y. Sussman"
Subject: Thank you for Contacting EarthLink Customer Service (KMM4382262V27130L0KM)
From: "invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com"

This automated message is to inform you that we have received your email. This is not a response to your inquiry.

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You should be receiving a personal response from one of our representatives as soon as possible. We answer all questions in the order in which they were received.

You can reach a variety of automated tools, as well as links to our online chat representatives, at your Personal Support Center:http://start.earthlink.net/

Click on the Support tab.

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The Personal Support Center contains several tools: address change/ plan change/ method of payment/ mailbox maintenance and much more to help manage your EarthLink account more effectively.

To hear an up-to-date message naming all known system outages, call (800)

719-4660 option #1

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Thank you for using EarthLink.

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Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2001 00:59:14 -0400 [EDT]
To: "Peter Y. Sussman"
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4410648V13713L0KM)
From: "invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com"

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Earthlink Customer Service.

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If you could please provide me with your account number, so I can be of some assistance to you.

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you,

Josh H.
ECS Representative
EarthLink Customer Service
service@mindspring.com

#1 Provider of the Real Internet

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Email Case ID: H 1764880

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Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001 23:02:18 -0700 [PDT]
To: service@mindspring.com
From: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4410648V13713L0KM)

The account number is right there on the email I received (see end of message): XXXXXXX. That's also my Earthlink account number, I think. The Mindspring account forwarding is supposed to be detailed in case no. 25632510.

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Peter

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[partial message:]

To: "Peter Y. Sussman"
From: "invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com"

This automated message is to inform you that we have received your email. This is not a response to your inquiry.

You should be receiving a personal response from one of our representatives as soon as possible. We answer all questions in the order in which they were received.

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 01:32:27 -0400 [EDT]
To: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4424660V2276L0KM)
From: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Earthlink Customer Service.

We will be more than happy to do this for you. However due to security reasons you will need to contact us at 1-800-719-4660, option 2. When you call please have your secret word and/or last 4 digits of your credit card available so we can confirm your identity.

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you,
Chris P.
ECS Representative
EarthLink Customer Service service@mindspring.com

#1 Provider of the Real Internet

Email Case ID: H 1764880

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2001 23:55:01 -0700 [PDT]
To: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com
From: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4424660V2276L0KM)

Is that absolutely necessary? Even in the middle of the night the wait on hold is more than 20 minutes.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

[partial message:]

To: "Peter Y. Sussman"
From: "invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com"

This automated message is to inform you that we have received your email. This is not a response to your inquiry.

You should be receiving a personal response from one of our representatives as soon as possible. We answer all questions in the order in which they were received.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 03:04:49 -0400 [EDT]
To: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4425104V7804L0KM)
From: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Earthlink Customer Service.

We apologize for the confusion, but we did not understand the nature of your question. Earthlink handles all billing. Earthlink and Mindspring are the same company. Again we apologize, and thank you for your patience.

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you,
Chris P.
ECS Representative
EarthLink Customer Service
service@mindspring.com

#1 Provider of the Real Internet

Email Case ID: H 1764880

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 00:18:38 -0700 [PDT]
To: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com
From: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4425104V7804L0KM)

I think you STILL don't understand the nature of the question. I apparently am being billed for a MINDSPRING account (pys@mindspring) on which I owe NOTHING.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

[partial message:]

To: "Peter Y. Sussman"
From: "invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com"

This automated message is to inform you that we have received your email. This is not a response to your inquiry.

You should be receiving a personal response from one of our representatives as soon as possible. We answer all questions in the order in which they were received.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 05:43:07 -0400 [EDT]
To: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4425506V17118L0KM)
From: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Earthlink Customer Service.

You have no account, with Mindspring or with Earthlink?

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you,
Chris P.
ECS Representative
EarthLink Customer Service
service@mindspring.com

#1 Provider of the Real Internet

Email Case ID: H 1764880

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 10:27:29 -0700 [PDT]
To: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com
From: "Peter Y. Sussman"
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4425506V17118L0KM)

Why can't you get this straight? Did you read my original message? Look down below in this lengthy correspondence to see it.

In answer to your question: I have a Mindspring account (pys@mindspring.com) that I was assigned when Earthlink bought my previous ISP (Sirius, which in turn had been bought by FirstWorld). But I ALREADY HAD an Earthlink account, pys1@earthlink.net. So I arranged for the Mindspring account to be a forwarding-only, six-month, one-payment account that I cannot use or log into in any other way; it simply forwards mail from my previous ISP to my Earthlink account. The one-time-only payment was made when the account was switched to a forwarding-only account. As it says below, that Mindspring forwarding account is supposed to be detailed in your records, case no. 25632510. Please check the documentation. It is that account on which I keep getting billed $5.95 a month, according to the bill that you can read below.

Are you pulling my leg or trying to respond to my request? If you are really interested in resolving this issue, please check the full message below, from bottom to top. Your responses are starting to read like a very bad nightclub comedy act. Your questions sound like you are either on autopilot or haven't read my messages before responding.

Thank you, Peter Sussman

[partial message:]

To: "Peter Y. Sussman"
From: "invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com"

This automated message is to inform you that we have received your email. This is not a response to your inquiry.

You should be receiving a personal response from one of our representatives as soon as possible. We answer all questions in the order in which they were received.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 23:26:27 -0400 [EDT]
To: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4435329V80992L0KM)
From: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Earthlink Customer Service.

We will be more than happy to do this for you. However due to security reasons you will need to contact us at 1-800-719-4660, option 2. When you call please have your secret word and/or last 4 digits of your credit card available so we can confirm your identity.

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you,
Chris P.
ECS Representative
EarthLink Customer Service
service@mindspring.com

#1 Provider of the Real Internet

Email Case ID: H 1764880

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 23:36:37 -0700 [PDT]
To: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com
From: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4435329V80992L0KM)

You've got to be kidding. Am I talking with a person or a machine? This is the same stock answer you sent me several messages ago. Then, when I protested, you sent me a message apologizing for your confusion. Now we're back to repeating old messages. We're going around in circles here. I feel like a character in a novel by Kafka.

Peter Sussman

- - - - - - - - - - - -

[partial message:]

To: "Peter Y. Sussman"
From: "invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com"

This automated message is to inform you that we have received your email. This is not a response to your inquiry.

You should be receiving a personal response from one of our representatives as soon as possible. We answer all questions in the order in which they were received.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Sat, 14 Jul 2001 05:41:02 -0400 [EDT]
To: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4438750V3366L0KM)
From: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Earthlink Customer Service.

We are unable to determine the nature of your inquiry from your email communication. Will you kindly resubmit your question so that we may assist you.

We welcome the opportunity to be of service to you.

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you,
Chris P.
ECS Representative
EarthLink Customer Service
service@mindspring.com

#1 Provider of the Real Internet

Email Case ID: H 1764880

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Sat, 14 Jul 2001 10:21:03 -0700 [PDT]
To: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com
From: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4438750V3366L0KM)

You asked me to resubmit my question. Can't you go back to the beginning of this message? Perhaps whatever machine is reading this message can refer it to a human being? OK, here is my question, cut and pasted from the material at the bottom of the message you sent me:

[Here, for typographical clarity, the reader will have to visualize long strings of characters that look like this: > > > > > >.]

Why do I keep getting these bills? I have an Earthlink account, too, but this bill is for the Mindspring account (pys@mindspring), which is a remnant of the sale of my old ISP to Earthlink. The Mindspring account is not and has never been a fully operational email address or account, it is only for mail forwarding to my Earthlink account, which is pys1@earthlink.net. The only charge on this account was to be the initial $15 for six months of forwarding. That was charged to me in early May.

Please explain, and please straighten this out. There should be no charges that I know of on my Mindspring account after the initial fee.

Peter Sussman

- - - - - - - - - - - -

[partial message:]

To: "Peter Y. Sussman"
From: "invoice.inquiry@mindspring.com"

This automated message is to inform you that we have received your email. This is not a response to your inquiry.

You should be receiving a personal response from one of our representatives as soon as possible. We answer all questions in the order in which they were received.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2001 00:26:41 -0400 [EDT]
To: "Peter Y. Sussman" peter@psussman.com
Subject: Re: "EarthLink Invoice #48021202, Please Read" (KMM4490730V43956L0KM)
From: "service@mindspring.com" service@mindspring.com

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Earthlink Customer Service.

You are receiving seperate [sic] invoices for both accounts?

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you,
Chris P.
ECS Representative
EarthLink Customer Service
service@mindspring.com

#1 Provider of the Real Internet

Email Case ID: H 1764880

- - - - - - - - - - - -

On July 27, I received my credit card statement, with the $5.95 Earthlink charge, confirming that the amount on the e-mailed invoice for my Mindspring account had indeed been charged to my credit card. That evening, I called Earthlink customer service, negotiating my way for a few minutes through various promotional and informational messages and phone-tree branches. When I finally got to the branch I wanted -- billing inquiries -- I half-heard a recorded apology -- something about an unusual number of inquiries. I waited for another 15 minutes or so until a real person answered.

The real person patiently heard out my complaint and then said he wasn't sure if his computer had access to that account. But after much audible clicking of keys, the real person finally found the Mindspring account in question. He began explaining that the MasterCard charge was for Web space.

"But I have no Web space on that account," I began to reply. "It's purely a forwarding address for which I paid a one-time-only $15 fee, which was charged to my MasterCard when the account was ..."

Suddenly, I became aware of a telephone "busy signal."

"Hello?" I said.

"Hello?"


Peter Y. Sussman

Peter Y. Sussman, a San Francisco Bay Area writer and editor, is the co-author of "Committing Journalism" (W.W. Norton) and is currently working on a book of the letters of Jessica Mitford.

MORE FROM Peter Y. Sussman



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